Recently I came across a post titled ‘Toners: Why Aren’t You Using Them?’ on the subreddit Asian Beauty. Normally I just brush off articles like this but it contained a quote that stuck with me and just wouldn’t leave me alone.

“They get rid of excess impurities your cleanser can leave behind”.

I was (and still am) a little confused as to what they mean by impurities. Do they mean that there are impurities in the cleansing products or that the skin contain impurities that a toner can remove?

A lot of ABers, maybe even the majority, double cleanse. First, we apply some type of oil product, emulsify it and then rinse it off. This is then followed up with a second cleanser, which is typically a gel, foam or cream. The entire purpose of double cleansing is to make sure that everything on the skin is removed. So what exactly will a toner remove that the other two products can’t?

Some say residual cleansing agents, but with adequate rinsing that shouldn’t be a problem. Let’s say that you DID have residual cleanser on your face, how would a toner remove it? Most people don’t rinse after toning, so at best you are moving and diluting an already diluted surfactant. Toners are typically all water-based formulas with no surfactants, so even if we did rinse not much would be removed.

Are my thoughts on this completely off?


  • If you're thinking that these toners don't really do much, then I'd say your thoughts are right on! The idea of getting rid of "excess impurities" sounds like a marketing-derived reason for buying another product. (Of course if the makers of these products have data to the contrary, I'd be happy to change my mind.)

  • As far as I see it, there are only 3 uses for a toner:
    1. If you don't double cleanse or use a make-up remover, a toner can help remove any residual make-up left after using a cleanser
    2. As a source of active ingredients that you don't already use in your skin care routine
    3. If your skin is dehydrated, a toner full of hydrating ingredients (e.g. glycerin, hyaluronic acid, etc.) can help give much needed moisture back to your skin

    Of course all of the above are completely optional. You definitely do NOT need to use a toner. In fact, in all 3 cases above, I would say that a toner would be the less than optimal solution to the problem. A make-up remover/double cleanse would result in the most thorough cleansing of the face. As for the last 2 cases, if you use a cotton ball/pad, it will absorb a lot of the toner, meaning less beneficial ingredients for your skin. And using your hands to apply a watery toner is quite messy and wasteful. I'd suggest a good serum instead.

  • I saw that article too! I've tried toners before, but they don't do anything my regular products can't already do, so I've never found them to be worthwhile.

    That author also seems to think they can "re-balance the pH of your skin", which is super sketchy. 
  • The "re-balance the pH of your skin" nonsense hearkens back to the days when people washed their face with soap. In those days, this function was extremely helpful because soap is very alkaline (high pH) and damages the acid mantle of the skin (usually around pH 5). These days though, most people use a water-soluble cleanser which is pH balanced, eliminating this function of the toner. If you still use soap, which you absolutely should not, a toner could help repair the damage you are doing to your skin.
  • Unless the toner contains acids it won't rebalance the pH of your skin - even if you use soap. 
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